Camp: Five Key Vikings To Watch

The changes the Vikings have instituted in the last seven months have been incredible, placing new coaches and new players into the limelight. Here are five key players with substantial questions lingering that will undoubtedly gain the watchful eye of new head coach Brad Childress at camp.

Brad Childress will get his initial look at the Vikings in pads as the team opens its first training camp under the new head coach. While Childress will be splitting his attention among different position groups, here are five players he undoubtedly will have a close eye on.

  • QB Tarvaris Jackson: The surprise second-round pick figures to get at least a couple of seasons to learn in a back-up role. However, everyone will be curious to see just how raw Jackson looks and how much he was able to pick up during the offseason workouts.

    The Alabama State product already has shown he has a gun for an arm. If he proves he is a quick study when it comes to the West Coast offense, Jackson could slide into the No. 2 role behind Brad Johnson sooner rather than later. As of Wednesday morning, however, Jackson remained one of two Vikings rookies unsigned.

  • RB Chester Taylor: One of the Vikings' marquee free-agent additions this offseason (four years, $14.1 million), Taylor reportedly upset some members of the brass by failing to embrace the offseason workout program.

    That, however, can be quickly forgotten if Taylor proves he's ready to become a starting running back in the NFL. Taylor has spent his career behind Jamal Lewis in Baltimore, so the 26-year old does not have much wear and tear on his body.

    If Taylor can move into the No. 1 role, the oft-injured Mewelde Moore can be used as a backup and also handle the duties as the lead punt and kick returner.

  • C Matt Birk: A torn labrum in Birk's left hip sidelined the Pro Bowl player for the entire 2005 season. Birk has said this offseason that he is at full strength and the Vikings will be hoping that continues as players begin hitting.

    No doubt he will be monitored closely.

    A healthy Birk will be crucial on a line that figures to have one of the best left sides in the NFL. Steve Hutchinson, who signed a seven-year, $49 million free-agent deal to leave Seattle, will be the left guard and Bryant McKinnie returns at left tackle. Birk figures to be the line's anchor, as he was before 2005.

  • LB Chad Greenway: The 17th-overall pick in the April draft, Greenway likely will open camp as the backup to E.J. Henderson on the weak side. (He remained unsigned as of Wednesday morning.)

    But Greenway will get every chance to show he is ready to be a starter in the NFL. If this proves to be the case, he could take over on the weak side, enabling Henderson to slide to the middle.

    Napoleon Harris and Dontarrious Thomas figure to get early looks for the starting job in the middle, but Henderson could be the best fit long term.

  • CB Fred Smoot: Smoot was a disappointment in 2005 after signing as a free agent from Washington.

    But the talkative corner seems determined to forget his first season in Minnesota and has added about 15 pounds to his 5-11 frame in an effort to get ready to play the Tampa-2 defense that new defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin has brought with him from the Buccaneers.

    The early portion of camp figures to provide a good indication if the extra weight will help Smoot stay healthy and be more physical (the goal) or if it will slow him down (not so good).

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